- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 19, 2009

The District, Maryland and Virginia ramped up for a massive snowstorm that could dump up to 16 inches on the area during one of the busiest shopping weekends of the holiday season.

While it might be too early for a white Christmas, Bryan Jackson, a meteorologist at the Baltimore/Washington forecast office of the U.S. National Weather Service, said the agency was expecting “whiteout” conditions on Saturday.

“The roads will be treacherous,” Mr. Jackson said Friday. “It is supposed to be the No. 1 shopping day tomorrow, but we encourage people not to go out.”

Mr. Jackson said 1 to 3 inches of accumulation were expected by Saturday morning, but that as the day progresses, conditions will worsen and another 12 inches of snow could accumulate.

“If you get up and there are couple of inches out there, it is going to continue to get worse. We need roads clear so plows can get out to do their jobs,” Mr. Jackson said.

A winter storm warning was in effect until Sunday morning, and forecasters said another snowstorm was a slim possibility for Monday.

By Friday, the storm had caused flooding in the Southeast and flash-flood warnings in areas including Alabama and Florida.

In Washington, where lawmakers continue to debate health care reform ahead of an anticipated Christmas Eve vote, the snowstorm became a political issue.

Conservative columnist Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard wrote on his blog that it would be unsafe to ask Hill staffers to trek to the Capitol to continue to debate the health care reform bill. He suggested that Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, the only known Democratic holdout on the bill, whose vote is needed to end debate over the legislation, announce his intentions sooner rather than later.

“So from the point of view of public safety and personal well-being, Ben Nelson can do everyone a favor, announce today he won’t vote for cloture, and let everyone stay home this weekend,” Mr. Kristol wrote.

Senators already were scheduled to vote Saturday morning on a defense spending bill. Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, warned his colleagues on the floor Friday to “plan accordingly” in light of the storm.

Some lawmakers from warmer climates couldn’t resist poking fun at how ill-equipped the city often is for dealing with winter weather. One senator compared the challenge posed by the elements to the challenge of getting something accomplished in the Senate.

“[Saturday], there’s going to be a snowstorm, and we’ll be coming in in RVs, and everything will be paralyzed as our nation’s capital always is when there’s a snowstorm,” said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican. Mr. McCain compared the impending snowstorm to the “storm” Democrats will experience if they pass their health care reform bill next week.

“But the fact is that there’s a firestorm out there in America,” he said. “That firestorm says, ‘Stop this. Stop this. We want to know what’s in this legislation.’”

Even President Obama, who earlier this year derided Washingtonians for their handling of winter storms, had to quickly readjust his schedule at a major climate change summit, leaving Copenhagen before the final vote because of “weather constraints.”

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